Training teachers in Qatar

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A view across Doha, Qatar from the 32nd floor

On Saturday of last week I flew out to Doha, the capital city of Qatar, to work with a group of teachers and school leaders from British International Schools in the Middle East. They had heard about our work at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form and they wanted to find out more, to see whether aspects of our practice could be applied in their schools.

Where is Qatar?

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The location of Qatar; Doha is marked by the red pin

Qatar is a small state poking out into the Persian Gulf, bordering on Saudi Arabia. I went to the capital city, Doha, which sits on the Eastern coast of the country. Qatar was a British protectorate until it became independent in 1971, which is why there are still a lot of British schools there. Doha has recently hosted the World Athletics Championship and preparations are well underway for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. There is a lot of development going on – I saw three massive skyscrapers under construction and air conditioned football stadiums being built in the middle of the desert. Quite something!

What’s it like?

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Two skyscrapers under construction (centre) against the Doha skyline

It’s hot! The temperature was around 35° C during the day, dropping to 30° at night time. Despite the Persian Gulf nearby, the surrounding country is dusty desert. Everywhere has air conditioning, which meant that indoors felt quite chilly by comparison and I had to put a jumper on!

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Doha from the air

The city centre (West Bay) has a spectacular skyline of towers and skyscrapers. Many of them are government buildings, but there are also towers for Qatar Petroleum, the Qatar Olympic Committee, banks and hotels. It’s amazing! The surrounding city spreads out into the desert.

Qatar is an Islamic country and there are many mosques around the city. The call to prayer is amplified by loudspeakers from the mosques, which makes a wonderful noise echoing from building to building! Due to their religious beliefs, alcohol is not available in restaurants or hotels. All the people I met whilst I was there were very welcoming and hospitable. It seemed to me like a country which was very open to international visitors.

What are the schools like in Doha?

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Outside the Qatar International School

I was working at the Qatar International School, a British International School in Doha. It’s an all-through school, with a building for Early Years, Primary and Secondary sections. In their secondary school they study iGCSEs, the international version of the GCSEs we study, and A-levels which are the same as ours. The staff and students are a mixture of British ex-pats, Qatari nationals, and other nationalities who want a British education. This meant that the classrooms were an interesting multicultural blend of all different nationalities. Everyone got along really well!

All the schools were surrounded by high, solid perimeter walls, electric gates and security guards. There were locked pedestrian gates too – one of the schools even had security turnstiles for the students to get in and out. This seemed to be the norm across Qatar – all the buildings I went into had x-ray machines to scan your bags, too. 

School starts at 7am, and finishes at 1pm. The other difference is that the working week starts on a Sunday and runs until Thursday, so the weekend in Qatar is Friday and Saturday. I struggled with that a bit! There are two breaks during the day, but students go home for their lunch at the end of the day – they do not have lunch at school. There are seven lessons in the day, of differing lengths. Moving between buildings means going from air-conditioned-cool to blazing-hot and back to cool again – you have to brace yourself! But apart from that, there were lots of similarities to British schools – their classrooms looked just like a regular British school classroom would.

What were we working on?

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I was out in Doha to work with British International School teachers and school leaders on mindsets and metacognition. These are things that we have been working on at Churchill since I became Headteacher back in 2016. They were particularly interested in our work on attitudes to learning, feedback, and how we are working with teachers and students to unpack the thinking processes behind learning (metacognition). It was amazing to me that our work at Churchill has a reputation which stretches so far – but the colleagues I was working with out there were very impressed by what we were doing and wanted to find out more!

It made me very proud to be talking about our wonderful school in such a different place. Although Churchill has been soaking under torrential rain for weeks, whilst Doha has been in blazing sunshine for months, there was much to be found in common between us. “The way we do things here” at Churchill certainly found an enthusiastic audience in the Middle East!

I had a great time in a brand new environment for me. I’d never done anything quite like this before! But, when I was back on duty outside the food pod on an overcast lunchtime on Wednesday, I did catch myself thinking: “there’s no place like home.”

Silly Walking on The One Show

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As many of you will have seen, last Friday I appeared on The One Show on BBC1 as part of a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and their legendary sketch, “The Ministry of Silly Walks.” What? How? Why? Let me explain…

How on earth did you end up on The One Show?

The idea came about from a discussion on a parents’ evening. I was on duty as usual, answering questions and helping with any issues, when a parent approached me. I was expecting a discussion of student progress, but no! This particular parent worked for a television production company in Bristol, and she’d had this idea…

The company (the brilliant Off The Fence) were making a segment for The One Show to mark the 50th anniversary of Monty Python. giphy In the original Silly Walks sketch, the comedy comes from John Cleese sounding and looking very serious in terms of dress and facial expression, whilst doing the silliest of silly walks. The idea was simple: take someone in a serious job, who dresses in suit and tie every day – for example, a Headteacher. Put them in a serious situation which normally requires serious behavior – for example, an assembly  – and get them to do a very silly walk. Film it, and film the reactions. What did I think?

Well, there’s no way you can say “no” to that kind of pitch, is there?

Filming at Churchill

There were a few preliminary meetings and phone calls, and the crew came in to scout the location in March – but the date of the filming was set for April 4th. The first idea was to do the whole thing as a hidden camera stunt, but we soon realised this wouldn’t work. If we wanted to film it properly, we would need multiple cameras and we would need to get permissions from everyone anyway. Instead, we told the Sixth Form that their assembly was being filmed for a BBC Factual Programme (which was the truth!). Many of them assumed it would be on a serious topic, and had no idea what to expect.

The assembly itself went pretty well. The theme was “breaking the mould” and I gave examples of how students should try and find their own individuality, originality and creativity rather than just following what everyone else has done. However, the message was somewhat lost when I started silly walking. Many of the sixth formers, I am sure, thought that I had lost it completely. Even when I explained, at the end, that this was all in aid of Monty Python, the vast majority of students gave me blank looks – I’m not sure the Pythons have the same cultural currency they once had…

I managed to keep a straight face throughout it all, although I did discover that silly walking provides quite a good cardio workout – I was quite out of breath!

Six Months Later

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Television Centre in London. The white tent on the right was where the equipment was set up to film my live silly walk!

In early September I was told that the broadcast date for the film was 4th October – six months to the day since the filming. I hadn’t seen any footage, although I was assured that it had turned out well. I put my trust in Off The Fence! Ellé, CJ and Euan were chosen by random ballot to come with me to the studio – as A-level Media students, this was a golden opportunity to see behind the scenes on a professional live TV show.

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Ellé, CJ and Euan with an actual Dalek inside Television Centre. There was a TARDIS too!

The people at the BBC are amazing. There’s a massive team behind The One Show, and they were absolutely lovely – so professional, so efficient, but really considerate to us all. When we arrived we could see right down into the newsroom which is the backdrop to all the BBC news programmes. It felt unreal.

One of the producers broke the news that they’d had the idea for me to do a silly walk behind Michelle Ackerley and Iain Stirling as they were doing the link into the film. Well, I thought, in for a penny…and next thing I knew I was wearing a bowler hat, rehearsing with a cameraman outside the studio window in front of several very confused onlookers!

There was just time for a quick coffee break before we were ushered into the studio itself for a briefing from the floor manager. The studio is quite small, with cameras, lights and screens everywhere. There must have been a crew of about twenty as well as the audience and presenters, but they all moved around each other like a perfectly oiled machine. It was amazing to watch. And then, before I knew it, I was silly walking, live on national television, outside The One Show studio window…

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It was all over in a flash. The guests were all so professional – James Morrison even held the door open for us on the way out! – and the producers let us sit on the famous sofas for a few pictures. As soon as we got outside, all four of us tried to keep track of our mentions and messages…there were a lot!

Reflecting on the experience, I think it tells me that you should take every opportunity you are given. Even if something sounds absolutely ridiculous, you never know where it might lead!

Thank you to Debbie, Amy and Roz at Off the Fence, Anya, Kirsty and the team at the BBC, and Ellé, CJ and Euan for being such good company. You can watch the episode on iPlayer until the end of October. Normal service will be resumed next week!

The Tower

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The completed Tower cladding (summer 2019)

We were faced with a problem after the demolition of the Tudor block earlier this year. The Tower – part of the original school buildings from 1956 – remained behind. What should we do with the new “end” of the building?

We knew that the exposed brickwork would be covered with cladding, since the walls had originally been internal walls and needed protecting from the elements. We wanted to come up with a simple but eye-catching design to decorate the expanse of white: something which would capture the spirit of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form but which would last; something which clearly showed the Academy’s identity. I knew that the four Houses of Churchill were a key part of this identity…so how could we get the design to reflect this?

The first idea for the Tower was sketched – literally – on the back of an envelope. After that, I superimposed the four stripes, one for each house, onto the architects’ draft plans for cladding the exterior wall using Photoshop.

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First version of the Tower design (with scribbles!) rendered in Photoshop

In this initial design, the stripes started in the same place but then separated out. Once they were flipped over, the design made perfect sense: the four separate houses of the Academy, all heading upwards towards a common shared objective. Like our students, they aren’t all the same, but they are all aspiring, growing, climbing. The stripes show our diversity and what we all share. The expanse of white shows what is yet unwritten – and suggests what is possible.

We are delighted with the final design, which was produced and installed by Naked Signs – carefully, painstakingly, by hand – with the help of a huge cherry-picker hydraulic lift. It certainly formed a talking point for the staff and students at the start of term, with some calling them “the superhero stripes” and others instantly recognising the house colours in the pattern. We hope that our Academy community, and visitors, are equally impressed!

Open Evening 2019

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In my speech on Open Evening this year, I talked about confidence. I spoke about how we organise the transition from primary to secondary school so that Year 6 children build the confidence to start Year 7 smoothly. I spoke about how, when students leave us at the end of their education at Churchill, we aim to send them out to take their next steps confidently into their futures. And I spoke about how confidence is a vital ingredient for learning, as we confront something we don’t know how to do…yet. When talking about the Academy’s values, I said:

Those values of kindness, curiosity and determination enable our vision here at Churchill: that we set no limits on what we can achieve. Our intention is to unleash that unknown potential that sits within each and every one of our students. We set our systems up here to ensure that there is always a next step, always an extra challenge, always that encouragement to push yourself further, but we also take time to build confidence. Because often the biggest barrier to students’ achievement is not the grown-ups around them telling them they can’t, but that nagging voice inside their own mind which says “I can’t do it.” Or “I’ll never be as good as them.” Or “it’s too difficult.” Our whole ethos and approach here at Churchill is to equip students with the inner voice to talk back to themselves, so “I can’t do it” becomes “I can’t do it…yet.” “I’ll never be as good as them,” becomes “I’m going to learn how they do it so I can do it too.” And “it’s too hard” becomes “this is going to take time and effort, but I’m going to get there.”

This approach underpins our guiding purpose, to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference both whilst they are here at the Academy but, perhaps more importantly, after they leave us. An education at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form provides young people with the knowledge, skills, character and confidence to make that positive contribution, because if we do our job right, the world our children will build will be better than the one we live in now.

Open Evening itself allowed our students to demonstrate that confidence in spades. Luke, Ela, Saffron, Ionah and Charles stood up in front of a hall full of Year 5 and 6 children, and their parents, and told them in their own words what it is like to be a student at Churchill, whether for seven years or just three weeks. Our tour guides showed families around the site, answering questions and making sure everyone got to see the departments they wanted to. Our student helpers in the faculties gave brilliant demonstrations or led engaging activities for our visitors. The Gospel Choir gave a thrilling performance, filling the hall for a second time! It made me so proud to see the ethos and approach that I was describing in my speech demonstrated so clearly by the students themselves: they are a credit to the Academy.

On top of that, our staff were incredible. It’s a long day’s work on Open Evening, but the team effort was wonderful to see. Just like the students, our staff are proud to work at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, and their commitment and dedication is second to none.

Next week we have our Open Mornings when we will showcase the Academy on a normal working day. We can’t wait! All the details are on the Academy website.

The House Cup

In the process of moving reception this summer, I went through the Academy’s trophy cabinet. As well as finding the Churchill County Secondary School Academic Cup,  from 1959 (which we awarded on Presentation Evening to Isaac Burchill), I re-discovered the House Cup.

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It was somewhat tarnished, but an hour with some silver polish and some elbow grease and it came up beautifully shiny! I am pleased therefore to announce that we are re-instating the overall House Competition for 2019-20. The Churchill Cup will be awarded for a combination of:

  • Conduct Points
  • Attitude to Learning
  • Attendance
  • Inter-House Competitions
  • House Matches
  • Sports Day

Why do we need a House Cup?

The House system is an vital part of Churchill’s identity. When I arrived as Headteacher in 2016, it was top of the list of things staff, students and parents wanted to “keep” as part of the Academy. We want every student to feel part of the community, and part of their House – affiliated and aligned to something bigger than themselves. Whenever they receive an R1, or gain an “Engaged” or “Highly Motivated” grade on a report, they will not only be benefitting themselves but also contributing to their House total and the overall competition.

How do you win points for your House?

  • Conduct Points: every time any student in the main school receives an R1, R2 or R3 award, those points will automatically count towards the house total. Concerns (C1, C2 etc) count as minus points.
  • Attitude to Learning: at each reporting point in the year, the combination of attitude to learning grades within each house will be added up to generate a house total. The most points will be awarded for Highly Motivated grades, then Engaged, and so on.
  • Attendance: points will be awarded according to the average attendance within each year, broken down by House, with an overall attendance trophy for the house with the highest average attendance over the year. Every day a student turns up to school, they are not only helping themselves but also helping their house total!
  • Inter-House Competitions: the Poetry Competition, Senior Trek, and so on will all contribute points to the overall total. There are also plans for some exciting new competitions this year – watch this space!
  • House Matches: Team PE already keep running totals for these termly competitions. The points from each competition will contribute to the overall total; there will also be a trophy for winning the House Matches competition.
  • Sports Day: points are already awarded in Sports Day; these will contribute to the overall total, as well as the award of the Sports Day cup.

We’re really looking forward to the competition this year – and may the best House win!

Practising penalties with Harry Kane

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Wembley Stadium, Saturday 7th September 2019

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to head down to Wembley Stadium for England’s European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria. It was my first time at Wembley watching football (although I did go last year to watch Taylor Swift) and I was very excited! Our seats were right at the top of the stadium, just left of the halfway line – we had a great view of the whole pitch.

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Harry Kane scoring a penalty against Bulgaria, 7th September 2019

The atmosphere was electric. There were over 80,000 people at the match and the noise was incredible! I even managed to capture a video of Harry Kane tucking away his second penalty to complete his hat-trick:

After the match, I was interested to read what Gareth Southgate had to say about Harry Kane’s penalties:

“We stood and watched him take penalties for about 20 minutes yesterday. When you watch the process he goes through, he gives himself every chance of succeeding by that deliberate practice…he’s an incredible example.
“When he gets his moment, he has an outstanding mindset and, technically, he’s a top finisher…but I go back to the fact that’s hours and hours of practice and if you talk to some of the other forwards in the squad, they would talk to you about how big an impression that has had on them.”

In my assemblies this week, I picked up on Southgate’s message: Harry Kane is a talented striker, but his accuracy from the spot is no accident. He prepared and practised so that, when his moment came, he was ready to deliver. It is this which sets such a good example to England’s younger players and, I hope to Churchill Academy & Sixth Form students. No matter what your ability is, careful and deliberate practice is the key to unlocking that ability and ensuring that you are ready to deliver when you get your moment – whether that be a Maths test, a dance performance, a race, your next English lesson, or an international football match. Preparation and practice mean everything.

Footnote

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My assembly message was rather undermined when Kane had a penalty saved by Nottingham Forest’s Aro Muric  in the 5-3 thriller against Kosovo on Tuesday night – but still, he’s a pretty good striker! I guess the goalkeeper had been preparing and practising too…

Welcome Back!

The 2019-20 academic year has got off to a flying start this week. Monday and Tuesday were staff training days, focusing on our four Academy priorities, before we welcomed our Year 7-12 students back on Wednesday and our Year 13 on Thursday.

Inset Days

During our first training day on Monday, staff received training on both behaviour and teaching and learning, as well as important briefings on safeguarding and inclusion. There was also time put aside for staff to work in their faculty and house teams to prepare for the year ahead.

On the second training day, all staff spent the morning working with an expert trainer exploring mental health issues, so that we can continue our efforts to support the mental health of our students. This is a complex area, but vitally important for us as a school which values the personal accomplishments of our young people – their character, wellbeing, and attitude to learning – in equal measure to their academic progress.

The Academy Site

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A huge amount of work has gone on across the Academy Site over the summer. This includes:

  • Completion of the new reception and administration hub at the heart of the school. This facility brings together all of the administration functions – finance, human resources, office, reprographics, reception, medical – into one location, increasing our efficiency and effectiveness by creating a “one stop shop” for students, staff and visitors.
  • Completion of the new staff and sixth form car park on the footprint of the old Tudor building, which will help reduce the number of cars pared on the narrow country roads around the Academy and allow safer drop-off and pick-up in the Sports Centre car park. This work has been accompanied by a striking new “Tower” design (more of which in a future blog!)
  • Completion of a new social area for students on the site of the old reception and office area
  • Redecoration of the Windsor / Maths classrooms, complete with new furniture and carpeting. This makes a big difference to the teaching and learning, reducing echo and preventing chair-scraping noises, as well as dampening sound to create a quieter, more focused classroom environment.
  • Planting along the central broadwalk, designed by the Academy’s Green Team, creating a beautiful space which will thrive as the new plants grow and spread.

I want to pay a public tribute to our amazing Site Team, IT Network Team, contractors and administration staff who have achieved an astonishing amount in a very short space of time. The Academy looked wonderful when the students arrived on Wednesday!

Focus on behaviour

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In my first assemblies with the four Houses on Wednesday, I spoke to students about our expectations of their behaviour. In consultation with students, we have revised our code of conduct so that our expectations of behaviour align with the Academy’s values of kindness, curiosity and determination. I’d like thanks to Mrs Griffiths, who led this project alongside the student representatives. The final document, pictured above, captures our high expectations of student behaviour in positive, inclusive language which links smoothly with our vision and values. I know that our students will respond well to this revision, which they helped to shape, so that we can continue to ensure that our students’ behaviour supports their learning.

I also introduced students to the revival of the Inter House Competition, which we will run this year towards the award of the House Cup – but I will save that for a future blog!

My overwhelming feeling over this first week has been one of immense pride. It is an honour to be the Headteacher of Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, working with such dedicated and expert colleagues in the teaching and support staff, and so many wonderful students. I am excited about the year ahead – there’s no limit to what we can achieve. 

2018-19 in review

Facts and Figures

2018-19 in facts and figures

What a year! As you can see from the facts and figures above, we have much to be proud of in the progress we have made. In this, my final Headteacher’s Blog of the academic year, I’d like to take a look back and take stock of what we’ve achieved.

Term 1

We started the year strongly, with our annual Presentation Evening and ever-popular Sports Awards Evening. Our Open Evening in September led to us being over-subscribed with Year 7 applications for the third year running. The term finished on a musical note, with the Junior Young Musician of the Year and the wonderful junior production of Bugsy Malone!

Term 2

We returned with things getting serious for Year 11 as they prepared for their mock exams. We also enjoyed two nights of fabulous Christmas Concerts as well as the traditional festive celebrations – including the Sixth Form fancy dress spectacular! In the midst of all this, removers were busy moving the entire Science and Food departments from one end of the school to the other…

Term 3

We returned in 2019 to the brand new Science and Technology building, open and ready for business! This was a monumental achievement by a huge team of people. Boosted by a £50,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation, our new rooms and brand new equipment have revolutionised our provision in this area. It’s hard to remember now that it’s only been in use for six months!

Term 4

After the February half term I took a spooky last look around the derelict, pre-demolition Tudor Block. This was an unforgettable experience as we bade farewell to the Academy’s original classrooms. We were then thrilled to welcome Professor Dame Athene Donald to formally open the building named in her honour.

Term 5

Exam season kicked in during Term 5, with our students engaged in their final revision before taking on the challenges of GCSEs and A-levels. The Tudor Block came down in a matter of weeks, and before we knew it we were saying farewell to the class of 2019!

Term 6

We’ve finished the year strong, with the opening of the Food rooms by chef Josh Eggleton, the annual Sponsored Walk and Trek, Sports Day and Activities Week. Finally this week, I have given out over 400 awards at our House Celebration of Success events. It’s a real privilege to see the young people at Churchill working so hard, and seeing the progress they have all made over the course of this year as a result of the efforts they have put in.

There is much to look forward to in 2019-20. But first, I’m sure all of us are looking forward to the summer holidays: a well-deserved chance to rest and recharge, get out in the fresh air, catch up on reading for pleasure, and hopefully spend time with family and friends. I urge you all to make the most of the break, so that you are refreshed and ready to do it all again – even better this time! – in September.

Activities Week 2019

Activities Week is a vital part of the Academy calendar. The week gives our students the opportunity to develop their skills and experiences beyond the main curriculum. This year, we have highlighted the skills that students can develop in each activity:

  • Listening
  • Presenting
  • Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Staying Positive
  • Aiming High
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork

These are skills which form the foundation of success for all learners. We address them in our lessons and our extra-curricular programme, but Activities Week gives our students the chance to push themselves further in new contexts, and new experiences.

This year there have been five trips abroad – Iceland, Krakow, Belgium, Paris and the Gospel Choir Tour – alongside 61 activities in school and beyond. From Adventure Bristol, Beauty and Nails, and Climbing to Football, Film-making, and FIFA, Surfing, Skiiing and Strawberry Picking…we hope we’ve had something for everyone! At the same time, our Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award expeditions have taken place, and Year 10 have been learning about the world of work through their week-long work experience placements.

The commitment from staff to make this week a success is huge. Many of them put in long hours – for those on the residential trips, 24 hours a day! At the end of a long school year, this is a significant investment. Many students, and their families, have expressed their gratitude to the activity leaders, and I know this is appreciated. As a school, when we see what the students have gained from their experiences, we know it’s worth it.

Enjoy a small selection of photos from Activities Week 2019 below. They aren’t all in yet – more to follow on the website in due course!

 

 

Art Works of the Week 2019

Each week the Art Department displays a student’s work on the screens in school. We often include them in the newsletter too. I am always so impressed by the creativity and skill our students show in these works. As we approach the end of the academic year, I thought it was worth gathering them together for posterity. Enjoy!

art work 11th january Ronja Carlsonart work 19th November 2018 Jasmine Sweeting_art work 21st january Brooke RawlinsArt work 21st Septembe Francesca Kellaway HarveyArt work Alida Vetrugno 5th November 2018_art work Bori Gunyits 18th March 2019Art work Grace Hill March 2018Art work helena Avci april 22nd 2019art work Issy Pamment 7th January 2019art work of the week 14th September Daisy Wraight.Art work of the week Lorna Houghton February 4th 2019art work Sophie Smith 23rd October 2018Art work. Amy Hurst 1st December 2018Art work. Charlotte Spensley Dec 10th 2018